Story: Asian conflicts

Page 7. Later Asian wars

All images & media in this story

Continued South-East Asian presence

The end of the Vietnam War coincided with fundamental changes in the international order. China–Soviet conflict in the late 1960s destroyed the myth of the communist monolith. This was reinforced by the re-establishment of relations between the US and China in the early 1970s, leading to the demise of SEATO in 1975.

New Zealand forces remained in Singapore until 1989. Initially they belonged to a tri-nation force with Britain and Australia, as part of an agreement with Singapore and Malaysia – the Five Power Defence Arrangements. When the British and Australians left in 1974, New Zealand’s force stayed on. Its presence was diplomatic rather than strategic, forward defence in Asia having been abandoned.

East Timor

New Zealand forces returned to South-East Asia in 1999, serving in East Timor during the civil unrest surrounding the nation’s independence. East Timor, formerly a Portugese colony, had been taken over by Indonesia in 1976 and was now finally freed. The New Zealanders served alongside the Australians as part of a peacekeeping, nation-building exercise. Five New Zealanders were killed, including one in a firefight with militias.


Following the end of the Cold War New Zealand’s attention shifted to west Asia. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 led New Zealand to provide non-combatant forces for the US-led coalition that drove the Iraqis out early the following year. But when the US invaded Iraq in 2003 New Zealand declined to join the effort, though it later supplied non-combat reconstruction assistance for a time.

Afghan war, 1885

Afghanistan first caused New Zealand concern in 1885. The UK was in dispute with the Russians over influence in Afghanistan. New Zealand considered offering to send 1,000 troops to help Britain should war break out, but the crisis was defused before any offer was made.


New Zealand’s most recent Asian war was in Afghanistan. The attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on 11 September 2001 focused US attention on Afghanistan. The group responsible, the Muslim fundamentalist Al-Qaeda, had used the country – dominated by the militant Islamist Taliban – as a refuge and training area. When the US intervened to help an indigenous resistance movement drive out the Taliban, New Zealand agreed to send a small combat element from the Special Air Service (SAS) to join the effort. This decision stemmed from similar influences to those that had induced New Zealand’s involvement in the Vietnam War – a desire to promote New Zealand’s relations with the United States. Withdrawn in 2005, the SAS was recommitted in 2009. A provincial reconstruction team served in Bamyan province from 2003 until 2013. New Zealand forces suffered 10 fatal casualties, eight of them in combat.

How to cite this page:

Ian McGibbon, 'Asian conflicts - Later Asian wars', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 May 2024)

Story by Ian McGibbon, published 20 Jun 2012, updated 1 Feb 2016